Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Turkish Friends

Last week, our Turkish teacher asked the American students in the class (the people the Pitzer exchange program) if we would meet some Turkish students that were headed to America. Having no real human contact outside of ourselves, our class and our host families, we agreed. I think we were all assuming that there would be five or ten students.

Two of us showed up on time and found two classrooms full of students at various levels of English comprehension (though it goes without saying that they were all better at English than we were at Turkish). My room went around with introductions, which was when I made my first faux pas. It turns out I have been pronouncing my neighborhood incorrectly for two weeks. As I should have figured out in our first Turkish class, the neighborhood Kocateppe is pronounced Kozhateppe. My pronunciation would have spelled Kokateppe. The class had a good laugh, which I think helped to break the ice.

The topic of conversation quickly became politics. The audience seemed to appreciate our explanation that America had spent 20 years messing things up in the Middle East and was now committed to fixing their problems even if it required unpopular occupations. My fellow American student taught everyone the word “hypocrite” and things went along well. One student then asked about American support for the PKK (a Kurdish pro-independence terrorist group). My real answer is that the America believes the Kurds deserve autonomy as does the European Union, but Kurdish Autonomy and the PKK are not the same thing. Knowing that wouldn’t fly, I side-stepped the issue. We talked a little about sports (outcome: I will be unable to pick a team to support that is universally popular, but only one team in Turkey is any good) and some other errata before we took a break an went to the other, less animated class.

When the people from the first class got back from their break, they decided that we should all go to lunch. The whole thing was quite a bit of fun. Everyone wanted to talk to me and was eager to please. It was probably the closest I will ever get to knowing what it feels like to be the most popular guy in middle school. Everyone had something they wanted to tell me. My favorite was a guy that was concerned that in America, people are called by their surnames in formal settings (In a formal Turkish setting, I am David Bey) and his surname did not mean anything (most Turkish families picked their own surnames, as directed by Ataturk. As would be expected, most mean something). He seemed really relieved that American surnames have no recognizable meaning most of the time. A bunch of people seemed really excited to buy “cheap” cell phones in America, not realizing that the price did not include a service agreement.

We then went out to play pool at what apparently was the top-ranked pool hall in Turkey (I am still not sure how you rank them or whether the ranking affects one’s playing experience). Turkish men are outstanding pool players (as it is an issue of machismo pride), but were still rather kind about destroying me. We finished a couple of games and said our goodbyes.

So the verdict? Turks are friendly to excess. Also, it seems that I now have scores of new friends, with corresponding email addresses, facebook friendships and phone number. Not bad for four hours.